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Munnar - Meesapulimala - Kolukkumalai - Anayirankal Lake Trek in December 2006

Gauri was the mastermind behind the whole plan. She had done some browsing on Kalypso Adventures [1] and forwarded me a plan, which I forwarded to few other people. Everybody who had been to Munnar had told me how beautiful the place is and a trek in Munnar could have been the best plan for the long christmas weekend. The only real problem with the plan was the cost factor, with Kalypso Adventures charging about 3.5K for the 3 day trek, transportation extra. This was way above our usual budget for treks. But, the trek promised to be a challenging one and it had been a while, since any of us did a good trek. Finally, four of us decided to go.

There was still some confusion regarding the bus tickets ... etc. Return tickets were booked by Kalypso guys, but we had to take care of the ticket to Munnar and that turned out to be a tough one. With no tickets in KPN and another guy who promised us to deliver the tickets backing off in the last minute, we found it a li'l difficult. In the end, Naren managed to book tickets to Ernakulam (Kochi) in a special bus and we had to take a taxi or something from Angamali (abt 40kms before Ernakulam) to get to Munnar.

This bus turned out to be a disaster, jampacked with people and luggage and hardly any leg / shoulder space. On top of it, it took the Calicut route towards Ernakulam and even started 2 hrs late @ 10.30, finally reaching Calicut only by 8 and Angamali by 1. After lunch @ a hotel, we took a taxi to Munnar @ Rs. 12 / km (which cost us a total of Rs. 1400) and started off by 2. The route from Angamali was MCR till Perumbavoor and NH49 via Kothamangalam and Adimali to reach Munnar by 5, a gud 6hrs late. Last time I drove in NH49, we took a wrong turn @ Poopara, ended up missing Munnar and joined back @ Adimali. Check out the Kodaikanal Trip log for more detailed route information.

Once @ Munnar, Naren called up our guide, Dinesh and he promised to be in the town soon. We were too late to do any trekking for the day and he suggested that we take a jeep till Rhodo (Rodo) Valley (our camping destination for Day 1) and start the trek next day from there. We agreed, since that was the only option. We decided to start working on tea and masala dosa by the time, Dinesh and Muthu (the guide from Forest department) was there. Once they arrived, we hoped on to a jeep they've arranged and went to a Forest Dept quarters for changing the dress and re-arranging the luggage. We had to take only the minimum required luggage for Day 2 and the rest would be transported to the Day 2 camp site.

Rhodo Valley is abt 15kms from Munnar town, which derives the name from Rhodendron trees with the deep red flowers. The original plan was to take the jeep till a place called Silent Valley (not to be confused with the Silent Valley @ Mannarkad, Palakkad), trek from there till Rhodo Valley and then camp there over nite. With the delay, we couldnt have trekked and the plan changed to jeep all the way till Rhodo Valley. It was dark and cold by the time we reached Silent Valley and the rest of the journey was in pitch dark. Naren didnt find it very interesting to watch the driver negotiating the stony jeep track and was checking the possibility of getting down and starting to walk. After an hour long ride, which included a couple of breaks to cool down the engine by pouring cold water into it, we were into a valley abt a km from our camping point. Nothing much was visible in the night, except for the crescent, the shining stars and the dimly lit valley. At this point, Naren again sugggested that we walk the remaining distance - everyone agreed, we paid the Rs. 800 as jeep charge and got down. It was fun, six of us walking in the dark With only a torch to our aid, even which was switched off most of the time!

The camp was an interesting place to be, with the organizers having taken care of virtually everything. Table, chair, tents, coffee & tea arranged with snacks and sugar cubes, well prepared tents and sleeping bags, even toilets and to top it all a sumptuous, tasty dinner - rice, chappathis, veg curry, chicken curry, custard, pineapple. All the stuff was transported till the valley using a jeep. Well ... it was gud enuf for the high price that we are paying :) Only, when we were woken up next day by the chirping birds, we really figured out were we are. Covered by hills on all sides and far away from the civilization, it was a nice chilled out morning and another good meal to start the day - a mix of traditional mallu breakfast, fruits and bread. There are some things that money cant buy!!!

@ Rhodo valley
Waking Up @ Rhodo Valley

Breakfast @ Rhodo valley
Breakfast

The previous night had been incredibly cold and when I woke up somewhere in the middle of the night, I had a cold wave and started feeling quite numb. It took me a while to realize that I am supposed to cover my head. After zipping up the sleeping bags, it was all right and I slept well. The temperature here is noted to have gone below the freezing point and we were advised to take warm clothings, right from the beginning. We were told later that this was a comparitively warm night.

After breakfast, by abt 8.15, we were ready to start the trek. First part of the day's trek involves climbing up nine hills, the ninth being Meesapulimala. The first of the nine hills was visible from our camp site and we started climbing up. Initial part of the trek was along the same jeep track through which we came. After about 10 mins, we had to take a small deviation towards the left and leading uphill. The climb was steep from this point onwards. Soon we reached above cloud level and the place offered a bird's eye view of Munnar and surroundings. There were various flowers all over the place, but unfortunately the season for Kurinji flowers was just over a month ago and we would have to wait for another 12 years, before it blooms again.

Panoramic view
Above The Clouds

In less than half an hour we finished climbing the first hill and found ourselves in another valley with an even better view. There was a small lake in this valley and we could now see the other side of the hills as well. Meesapulimala was on the far left, Suryanelli town and numerous tea estates behind us. Further down, one could spot the Anayirankal lake, the destination for next day's trek. And on the far right was Anamudi, the tallest peak in South India, standing tall @ 2695m. Ofcourse, we had clouds for company in the horizon!

Meesapulimala
First sight of Meesapulimala

Now, we had to climb down the 1st hill, cross a small stream flowing through the ridge and then get to the 2nd hill. This took us about quarter to half hour more. The 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th hills were relatively easy. We had to descend a little bit and climb up the next hill, which was almost of the same height. The 7th one was a bit tough though. We had to get down a little bit more and then climb up a lot more. After the 7th hill, Meesapulimala looked very close. Our guides explained that the hill got its names as it resembled the face of a tiger ... well ... if u look closely u may also think so :)

Trek route
The Way We Came

The last climb up the Meesapulimala was also a tough one, but once u r on top of the hill, all the difficulties were forgotten. It felt amazing to be on top of the world and one step away from the clouds! Meesapulimala is in the Kerala - TN border, with the border mark right on top of the peak. Our guides told that Kodaikanal hills and Yellapatti village are sometimes visible from the peak, but not so now, because of the heavy mist. Meesapulimala is arguably the 2nd tallest peak in South India (after Anamudi) according to many websites, but there is no consensus on the actual height of the peak. People cites values ranging from 2580m to 2650m and I guess Meesapulimala is not the only one in this range (Doddabetta in Ooty being another @ 2634m). Does anyone know the correct height of this peak?

Clouds on top of Meesapulimala
Wanna Step On To Clouds

At about 10.30 we started our descend from the other side of the peak. The descend was very steep, more so because of the heavy mist, making it difficult to see beyond 10-15 metres. Elephant dung was all over there during our descend, creating the fear of encountering one en route. But looks like, the elephants are generally expected only by evening time. After about 40 minutes steep decend, we got inside a shola forest. The place was nothing short of a wild garden with flowers and plants of different colors, shape and sizes. The mist too had an amazing effect and gave a heavenly aura to the whole setup. The path was around a hill side and it was actually very steep on one side, but not very obvious due to the vegetation. Well ... with the danger of elephants and time running out, we had to move fast.

Shola forest
Through the Garden Of Wild

At abt 12 we were @ Kolukkumalai and surrounded by tea estates on all sides. According to our guides, these tea estates are the highest in the world @ 2175m. Teamed up with a very clear blue sky, the green carpet offered a magnificient landscape. We took a jeep track, winding around this tea estate sprawling acres, towards the depths of Suryanelli. Lunch was taken en route, when we spotted a stream. This time it was simpler, pooris and aloo curry.

Tea estates @ Kolukkumalai
Tea Estates @ Kolukkumalai

We started again post lunch at about 2. With abt 7kms left, we again had to move fast and opted for a few shortcuts on the way. Hmmm ... it was kinda tough making way through the tea estates, especially considering the slope and our tired legs. But we made it quickly to the cottages @ Shanmughavilasam in Suryanelli ... by abt 3.30 in the evening. The cottages were once again a good experience, with everything properly arranged and a great view to boast! The place looked like carved out a hill side and overlooked a beautiful valley on the east side. Our destination for day 3, Anayirankal lake was also visible from there.

Cottages @ Shanmughavilasam
Cottages @ Shanmughavilasam

One of the cottages were already occupied by two French women and though, they were interested in making conversations, their English was not very good, neither was my French any better than "etes vous Francais" and "Comment allez vous" :) Still we managed to exchange a few words with each other and sang X'mas carole songs together. All this happened around the camp fire, while savouring another good dinner!

View from the cottage
View From The Cottage

Trek started a li'l late, the next day - only by 9. We started off on a tarred road initially, in between took some kutcha jeep tracks, passed through a village and soon hit the woods. Then we crossed a stream and spotted a tree house, which according to Dinesh was used to keep track of the elephants in that area. He also narrated few vendetta stories between the elephants and the local people. Boy ... I didnt want one of them in my way!

Lemon grass
Lemon grass en route Anayirankal Lake

Anayirankal lake
Anayirankal Lake

By abt 11.30, we made it to the lake, which was again beautiful, like any other place in Munnar :) Me and Naren took a dip in the freezing cold water of the lake. There were couple of boats moving around and our guide arranged for a small boat trip. After some bargaining, we ended up taking a small ride for Rs. 100. Once in water, I realized that the guys were both drunk. It was scary, since the lake was really deep at places and the boat jerked dangerously at times. Anyways ... the view was good from the middle of the lake and was worth the trouble. Our jeep was ready by this time and we headed back.

View
View From The Lake

The jeep made its way through another jeep track, taking us first to the main road and then to a town called Chinnakanal in about half an hour. There were couple of resorts around this place, including the club Mahindra's. Lunch was taken @ a small local hotel here and we soon headed back to Munnar. Chinnakanal was very near to the NH49 coming from Poopara .. etc [Again reference to Kodaikanal Trip log] and abt 20kms from Munnar town. Chinnakanal waterfall, Lockhart gap and Devikulam was on our way to Munnar. We did stop at the Lockhart gap and admired the majestic mountains and then spotted a cave just next to the road.

At abt 2.30 we were @ Munnar town, near the KPN bus, heading to Bangalore. Jeep charges this time was Rs. 900, which we paid along with a small tip to our guide. The bus would start at only 4 and we had time to roam arnd a bit. First, I checked out the tourist information centre, but was disappointed, since I didnt get much information from there. The only trekking program they had was @ Chinnar wildlife sanctuary. Permissions were not given for people to trek to Anamudi, atleast not till the Kodai - Munnar road is completed (Dont ask me what is the connection ... I also dont know). Trek to Anamudi was allowed earlier, but stopped mainly due to the high levels of plastic pollution caused by some of the tourists. Another instance of people suffering due to the mistakes made by some!

After this, we did some shopping @ one of the local shops, some green tea and flavoured tea varieties, had tea / dosa from one of the restaurants and headed back for the bus. The KPN bus looked much more comfortable and had very good leg / shoulder room compared to the one we took while coming and was even cheaper (just 500 as opposed to 750 + taxi to Munnar). It took the road towards Chinnar / Marayoor, passing through some of the very picturesque ghat roads I've ever seen covered with tea carpets and mist. It was a beautiful way to say Au Revoir to Munnar. We reached Marayoor, known for its sandalwood forests which were visible en route, in abt 2hrs and Udumalapettai in another hour. I guess, the bus took a little detour to go via Pollachi and reached the NH47 somewhere near Avinashi. Udumalapettai route is much shorter route compared to taking the Angamali or Ernakulam route and we reached Bangalore way before dawn.

Munnar indeed lived upto the hype it has among wanderlusts. So much so that, in spite of the high cost (abt 5.5K per head) it rekindled my passion for travelling and taking the road less travelled. I was thinking about the next possible trek destinations almost the whole of the night. I realized that I havent done good trekking, the whole of 2006 and 2007 had to be different. Ofcourse, there were a lot of A+ places lined up and I could conjure a list as big as 13, only from Kerala and Karanataka. Lets see how many of them will be taken up in 2007!

References:
  1. Go here for Kalypso's Trekking site : kalypsoadventures.com/html/trekm.htm.



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